Why nice Jewish girls need ads to make a match

Blind dates are all the rage in a community where its still hard to meet the opposite sex, writes Vanessa Thorpe
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The Independent Online
Below the plaintive heading "Looking for Normality? Then I'm for you!" a 32-year-old well-built man with blue eyes invites young Jewish women "in search of love, affection and plenty of respect", to give him a call.

Sounds a bit ... wet? Perhaps. But if a lonely hearted reader of the Jewish Chronicle's new telephone dating page is persuaded to dial up Mr Normal she will be up against some hefty competition. Each advertiser is called an average of 25 times.

The newspaper's dating service, called Introductions, was launched in the middle of last month, and is already proving a phenomenal success, astounding the editor, Ned Temko, and revealing a great dissatisfaction with the more traditional ways of getting to know prospective partners within the Jewish community.

"The page has exceeded our wildest expectations," says Mr Temko. "Typically the idea with a service like this is to build it up over a number of weeks. In fact, within three weeks of announcing this section we had more than enough to do a whole page, and within the first three days of the page appearing we had received 1,300 responses."

Rival Jewish publications such as the magazine New Moon, and newspapers The Jewish Telegraph and Shalom, already run phonelines and conventional personal ad sections. Even so, the market for putting single Jews in touch with each other appears far from saturated.

"There is clearly a thirst out there for a new way of meeting people. These pages are the shadchans, or marriage brokers, of the 1990s," Mr Temko says.

The Jewish community's reputation as a cohesive group, based around the family and the synagogue, makes it surprising that young Jews are having such a hard time meeting up. But it is true, and it will remain a problem for as long as even the most irreligious of Jewish teenagers harbours a quiet hope that they will eventually "marry in".

The television comedian David Schneider, 33, has written his first play about the dilemma. The comedy, which opens on 28 November at the Hampstead Theatre, is the story of one young man's struggle to find a nice Jewish girl.

"Listings carried in New Moon and the JC are just modern-day shadchans really," he said, "except the original marriage brokers were completely in cahoots with the parents. If you had a particularly difficult son to get rid of they used to go from one village to another, seeing if there was anyone suitable.

"There would be shadchans at different social levels that you would have to impress. Nowadays the problem is that we are so good at having assimilated that you find you are out there with everyone who is non-Jewish too.

"But even a non-Jewish Jew has an almost knee-jerk reaction to try not to marry out."

The root of the tension is reflected in the title of Schneider's play, The Eleventh Commandment, which refers blackly to the dictum of the Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim that a good Jew should never allow the Nazis a victory by marrying outside the faith. For New Moon's editor Matthew Kalman, too, this is still the big issue confronting young Jewish people in the 1990s.

"All things being equal, whether they are agnostic, atheist or newly born Buddhist, they would prefer to marry somebody Jewish. It is a cultural and ethnic thing and not a religious thing.There is a whole sub-culture now revolving around blind dates, many of them set up through ads in our magazine. It has lost its stigma. Some people manage to go out with a different person every week.

"That either makes me the community's biggest pimp or the community's biggest matchmaker. Whichever, it is a damn good thing if a lot more people are having sex because of our magazine."

Blind dates, he adds, are much more light-hearted than the kind of meetings conventionally set up by marriage brokers. "If you want a personal service from a matchmaker, or you sign up with an agency, you are making quite a serious statement." Either way it can be a dispiriting business.

Nicole is a 31-year-old social worker who has used phone dating services several times. "I keep finding people who I already know. One of them went to my Hebrew classes. It is quite claustrophobic, really. It would be nice for my family if I met someone Jewish and I suppose there might be someone out there who I wouldn't meet in the normal course of events."

Her friends Rachel and Anna suspect that a lot of the men advertising are just the same undesirables from week to week. "Occasionally I might phone up to listen to a recorded message," says Rachel. "But when I go to a charity event I probably see half the people listed on the phone services anyway."

Anna, a surveyor, once believed that she would always have something in common to talk about with any Jewish man she met. "Now I think the cultural link is not enough."

The thrust of their sentiments is summed up by one woman's plaintive ad placed in the Chronicle last week. "Desperately Seeking Non-Schmoe," it reads.